31 Dec My Last Word – Part 6
by Father David May
It was in the spring of 2010 that I first noticed a tremor in my right leg. After this continued and a few other symptoms began to appear, I got an appointment with a neurologist in Ottawa. He confirmed what I had begun to suspect: that I had Parkinson’s disease.
Simply put, this neurological illness is caused by a decrease in the production of the neuro transmitter dopamine. The part of the brain that produces dopamine ceases to manufacture the amount needed as its cells die off. The cause for this remains largely unknown.
There are various stages given in classifying this illness, culminating in a great degree of helplessness, immobility, trouble swallowing and speaking, and so forth. These symptoms develop at varying rates and to varying degrees in each patient.
The first ten years can be managed with relative independence, but later quite a bit of assistance is likely to be needed.
Medications can help alleviate the worst of the symptoms for a time, but later, their effectiveness normally diminishes. There is no known cure, though a lot of research is in process.
My neurologist, a man of non-Christian background, asked me if I knew who John Paul II was. When I replied in the affirmative, he suggested to me that I take him as my model:
“Live your life to the full for as long as you can, right to the end. He is the best example I can think of how to live with Parkinson’s.” I decided right then and there I would take his advice to heart.
When I got home from Ottawa, I immediately shared the news with the whole community, as well as with my immediate family. Many started praying for my healing;
I had no objections to this (!), but I myself felt moved to try to carry this cross like any other person diagnosed with a debilitating illness. However, I knew from experience that I am no hero by nature, and that I would need a lot of help from God and his friends.
I managed to finish my second term as director general of priests, and even took on a third (and last) term, though by the end of that time (July 2016) I was getting pretty wiped out.
I tried various exercise programs, took supplements, and generally kept fairly active physically. But dealing with difficulties in typing, walking, writing and so forth day after day, not to mention various physical pains and the effort it takes to concentrate on movements that used to be automatic, does take its toll.
I was grateful for the offer to be able to live as a poustinik on our island, and I’m still doing that at this writing, and hope to continue for as long as I am physically able. I have no idea how long that will be.
Often the words of the old spiritual come to mind: “One day at a time, sweet Jesus, that’s all you’re asking of me…”
Sometimes I can be more or less accepting of all this, and at other times it is more difficult, and I get frustrated and angry. However, I go to confession, receive the grace of forgiveness I so need, and start afresh.
Slowly, from somewhere in the depths within, a word has been emerging. Unlike some of the others, its effect has not been immediate or overpowering. Rather, it is quiet, soft-spoken almost, but persistent. It comes from the heart of the liturgy: This is my body, for you; this is my blood, for you.
I’ve hesitated to write about this word, just as I have refrained for the most part from writing about this illness. I’ve avoided the latter because I didn’t want to risk drawing undo attention to myself; I refrained from sharing the former because it was more like a distant echo than a clearly directed personal word from the Lord.
But something changed over the last few weeks, and here I am writing about both. Why is the Lord giving me this word at this time? Since I haven’t been clear about it, there was nothing to write!
Even now I am groping a bit in the dark, but the conviction continues to grow that I am supposed to bring it out into the light.
This is my body … this is my blood. It occurred to me the other day while at adoration that the Lord is speaking that word to me personally at this time, because to negotiate the waters that are coming, I will need more than ever before in my life to draw upon a divine strength, a steady rock within while all else continues to weaken.
Again, as earlier in my life, I sense a living power in this word, as the Lord makes up within me what I lack in spiritual strength. I have no idea what this will look like or how it will be expressed, only that it is growing in me quietly as a pure gift.
I also think it has more to do with the future than dealing with a debilitating illness. I sense that a time of persecution is coming for Christians here in North America at a level we have not experienced before (at least most of us). I sense these words are for the strength to bear witness in the face of a growing hatred of the name of Christ.
Maybe that sounds far-fetched and evidence of imagination running amok, and maybe I simply am in need of another medication adjustment!
But ever since abortion, euthanasia, and other evils became accepted in our land as normal and a right, combined with a soul-numbing materialism also run amok, I have felt the impending judgment of God hanging over us, not for our condemnation, but for our healing.
And that brings me to the second aspect of this word—This is my body, for you…this is my blood, for you. Not only is this a gift to strengthen me personally, but as the Eucharist is meant to be for any of us: it seeks to transform us into itself.
That is, the Lord wants me to become that offering, his offering, himself given in stillness of surrender from the Cross—“My body, for you, my blood, for you.”
In the future, there will come a day when I won’t be able to “do” much of anything tangible, but by his grace, I can simply be an offering out of love for all—friend and foe. Our suffering is a treasure we can offer when other pathways of service are closed to us.
When we returned Catherine Doherty’s Order of Canada in Ottawa in 2008 in protest against the fact that Canada’s leading abortionist was receiving the same award, we were surrounded by journalists asking many questions.
One who interviewed me was a young lady working for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). She asked the usual questions: what did we have against Dr. Morgentauler? What about the rights and needs of women?
She seemed surprised that I wasn’t some kind of unreasonable fanatic, and it looked like she had never met anyone before who professed to be pro-life.
After the interview, we parted amicably. During that whole time, I couldn’t help but notice that she was about eight-months pregnant. I asked her when her baby was due and told her I wished her well.
This month we celebrate the birth of a Child who came to wish well every human being who has ever lived or ever will live. Not all received him very well, but he loved all very well, becoming an offering for each one. We, too, are meant to be that offering for many. How else can we bear witness in our day to the Gift that is given us at Christmas?